Who is the best draft pick in New Orleans Saints history? Who is the player that had the most impact in the organization on and off of the field? Drew Brees may be the most important Saint of all time, but he was signed as a free agent.
Quarterback Archie Manning may very well be the most important. Not because of what he won, because the Saints didn’t win much. Nor is it because he set passing records. It isn’t even because he is the father of current NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning. It is what he has done in the community and the fact that he kept the team relevant that Archie Manning is the most important draft pick in New Orleans Saints history.
The Saints were born in 1967. Unlike the Atlanta Falcons the season before, the Saints did not have to compete with the American Football League to sign players as the merger between them and the National Football League had occurred in 1966. New Orleans was given the number one overall pick and for whatever reason traded it to the Baltimore Colts.
The team went with Billy Kilmer at quarterback until 1971 when they drafted Manning out of Mississippi University. Manning was a legend in the South. Having played one state away, he was already well known by Saints fans. Manning was the second overall pick in a highly touted class of quarterbacks behind Stanford’s Jim Plunkett.
In his first game as a Saint, Manning engineered a 24-20 upset of the Los Angeles Rams at old Tulane Stadium. He scored the winning touchdown as time ran out and a star was born.
Manning had all of the attributes necessary to be a great quarterback. He had the size, could run and was an accurate passer. There are those who think that he was more talented than Peyton and Eli, but the best draft pick in New Orleans history wasn’t fortunate enough to play on championship caliber teams like his sons.
What Archie Manning did was give his team a chance to win whenever he took the field. Despite this, the Saints never had a winning record with him as their starting quarterback. The best their talent could take them was an 8-8 finish in 1979. Manning took a terrible beating from being sacked and battered by opponents. After 12 years with the Saints he was traded to the Houston Oilers for Kenny Stabler in 1982.
What also made Manning the most important draft pick in Saints history was his work in the community. At a time when athletes were closer to fans and lived in the community, players like Manning gave as much as they took. He was a regular volunteer for Special Olympics and did work with the handicapped and underprivileged. To this day, Archie Manning still lives in the New Orleans area.
Peyton and Eli Manning both had better careers statistically and team wise, but their father may be able to claim one thing. Archie Manning may be the best and most important draft pick in New Orleans Saints history.